Dune: The Butlerian Jihad is the first of a second group of Dune prequels written by Brian Herbert, the son of original Dune author Frank Herbert, and established science-fiction author Kevin J. Anderson. Whereas the first trilogy (composed of Dune: House Atreides, Dune: House Harkonnen, and Dune: House Corrino) dealt with the events immediately preceding the events described in Dune and its sequels, Dune: The Butlerian Jihad is set in the mythic past of Herbert's Dune universe.

The Butlerian Jihad refers to a near-mythic uprising by humans against the thinking machines that had enslaved them. From the Butlerian Jihad, the political and technological structure found in the later Dune novels developed: the prohibition on computers and thinking machines, the Mentat order, the Empire with its attendant political and religious bodies, such as the Bene Gesserit order and the Landsraad. Dune: The Butlerian Jihad (and its sequels, Dune: The Machine Crusade and Dune: The Battle of Corrin) explores this era, particularly the personalities and events that would later be directly involved in the events of the later Dune novels.

Cast of Characters

D:TBJ is structured much like the other Dune prequels: a cast of characters are introduced, and their stories are then told in a round-robin fashion, each chapter pushing along the story of an individual character, with major characters commonly being united in critical chapters at the beginning and end of the story. The primary characters introduced in D:TBJ are:

There are a few other characters whose stories are followed throughout the novel. They generally have smaller parts, however.

Plot- Contains spoilers

As the novel opens, Xavier Harkonnen is leading the defense of the capitol planet of the League of Nobles, Salusa Secundus. After a long period of relative inactivity, the thinking machines of the Synchronized Worlds of Omnius are staging a direct attack on the human planets. The attack, led by members of the Titans, is repulsed at great cost, with much of the capitol city being destroyed, and Xavier Harkonnen narrowly avoiding death.

Soon after the capture of the unallied human planet Giedi Prime, the League begins to consider the possibility that Omnius is making a bid to finally wipe out the last vestiges of independent humanity. Serena Butler, unwilling to let the people of Giedi Prime suffer without hope, leads a secret mission to attempt to set the stage for an invasion and recapture of the besieged planet. Her mission succeeds and the planet is recaptured, but she is captured by the thinking machines and brought to Earth as a slave, and she is presumed dead by her allies and husband, Xavier.

On Earth, Serena is kept around for the amusement of the robot Erasmus, who desires to better understand human beings (ostensibly so that he can eventually help Omnius destroy them). Serena impresses it with her spirit and compassion for the other slaves that Erasmus is experimenting on. She also comes to the attention of Vorian Atreides, a human slave who has been brought up to revere the thinking machines and their system, particularly his father the cymek Agamemnon.

At the time of her capture, Serena was pregnant with Xavier's child. She delivers after her arrival on Earth, and the child becomes the focus of her existence under Erasmus' often arbitrary and cruel observation. At last, however, Erasmus becomes frustrated with the extent to which Serena's obsession with the child interferes her willingness to "play along" with Erasmuses experiments and conversation. He kills the child, and performs a hysterectomy on Serena to prevent her from becoming pregnant again.

Unfortunately, Erasmus kills the child in a rather public and horrific way. Groups of human slaves in the streets below observe the act, and are incensed. The effect is enhanced by the fact that certain humans who are leaders among the slaves have been receiving secret communiqués from unknown parties, indicating that a slave resistance has been organized. These messages have actually been sent by Erasmus as a means of testing the will and courage of the slaves- but they don't know that. A full-scale slave rebellion is soon under way.

Meanwhile, Vorian Atreides has been learning the true history of his father and the reign of terror of the thinking machines, prompted by an angry conversation with Serena Butler (with whom he has been falling in love). He returns to Earth to find the planet in chaos, and seeks out Serena. He rescues her and one of the slave revolt leaders, fleeing the Earth aboard a courier ship as the rebellion is brutally put down by the thinking machines- Omnius has now signed the death warrant of every human slave on the planet.

Returning to Salusa Secundus, Serena rallies the nobles to take decisive action against Omnius and his machines. It is decided that they League will stage an all-out attack on Earth, using atomic weapons, and carry the war to the machines for the first time in generations. The attack succeeds- Earth is bombed into radioactive slag, and the humans capture a complete copy of Omnius' program and personality before it can be carried offplanet by courier.

Serena calls both Xavier and Vorian before her, and makes them promise that they will win the war for her, and for humanity. But they must both forget their love for her, as she is now wed to humanity's crusade against the thinking machines- the Butlerian Jihad, named for Serena's lost son, Manion.


Dune: The Butlerian Jihad is an ambitious attempt to make a novel out of the mythology that underlies the later Dune series. Unfortunately, it is riddled with problems that make it quite clear, even more than in the earlier prequels, that the writing team of Anderson and Herbert lack the vision and sophistication that marked the work of Frank Herbert in the groundbreaking original series.

The thinking machines themselves present the first problem. By definition, they are inhuman- and yet, the authors must present them to the reader in an understandable way. Unfortunately, thinking machines presented in D:TBJ do not seem convincingly machine-like. Their actions seem like those of a stereotypical human villain- Omnius enslaves, and conquers, Erasmus tortures and taunts. The continuing presence of human slaves throughout the synchronized worlds is particularly perplexing; there seems little reason to keep around this high-maintenance, potentially volatile population. Omnius has near-unlimited computing and manufacturing capabilities at his "fingertips", and access to both true artificial intelligence and drones that can be controlled by his own vast intelligence. And yet, millions of human slaves are kept around doing the sort of menial and hazardous tasks that even in the modern era, non-human laborers are better suited to. Erasmus in particular fails to come across as "robotic" or "inhuman"; he seems like a scientific minded human villain, rather than a robot obsessed with understanding humanity. It seems that the authors did not give a great deal of thought to what a society of machines or artificial intelligences(if such a concept is even possible) would be like; they simply took the stereotypical Evil Empire, and made all the major players robots.

Another troubling aspect of the novel is its vast simplification of Herbert's original framework. Herbert had a flair for representing the truly vast time scale that he was thinking of when he wrote Dune and created its myths and culture. His syncretistic religions, ancient political and other secret orders, and the drifting of names and language present a vision of the world every bit as colorful and detailed as the world of J.R.R. Tolkien. Herbert II and Anderson, on the other hand, present a background to Frank Herbert's world that is straightforward in the extreme; for every element in Frank Herbert's world, there is a single easily identifiable antecedent in the prequels. The band of psychic power wielding women being trained by Zufa Cenva will become the Bene Gesserit; her daughter's brilliant mind will give rise to the Mentat order; her husbands dabbling in psychoactive drugs and his partnership with a Tleilaxu dealer who has discovered a rare spice on a far-off desert planet will give rise to the Guild and the popularity of melange.

The religious vision presented in the Butlerian Jihad is likewise simple; Zensunnis worship a composite deity named Buddallah, and they are joined in persecution by "Zenshiia", who are more or less the same, but more aggressive, keeping with the modern Western perception that shiite Muslims are more "dangerous" then their Sunni brethren (a perception that has really only appeared since the revolution in Iran). While Dune was alive with the constant presence of religion, it seems an afterthought to most of the characters in the Butlerian Jihad; one wonders how a fight against robots by people with little apparent religious belief can be a jyhad (other than Serena Butler saying that it is), or how the event will become enshrined in religious lore.

Much less attention is also paid to the drift of language and culture. Every planet, every race, every family name presented in D:TBJ is the exact same as those used in Dune. Besides being unlikely in the extreme, this omission (intentional or otherwise) makes it seem that the supposedly gigantic gulf of time that separates D:TBJ and the other Dune novels is much less than it should be. It's like opening the Bible and finding that it concerns the adventures of John Smith and his cousin Jimmy in Cambridge, Massachusetts- right next to the Au Bon Pan on Mass Ave. .

Continuity problems with the later books also abound. The information found in the Butlerian Jihad node here, for example, derived from the Dune Encyclopedia, is absent to the point of non-existence in D:TBJ. It may be that the authors of this novel didn't want to be bound by these constraints, and prefer that their version be the canon form. However, conceptual contradictions also abound. Frank Herbert states throughout the Dune series that the discovery of melange and the Navigators made possible the Empire; without it, planets would be entirely cut off in space from one another, due to the vast distances involved. Yet, throughout D:TBJ, characters regularly cross the galaxy in a week or so. They are somehow moving at supralight speeds, but no explanation of why or how is given. Despite the absence of melange, all of the planets mentioned in the later Dune novels are readily reachable in reasonable time- they maintain communications, they trade, and conduct diplomacy. One begins to wonder why exactly the Padishah Emperor was so worried when Paul Atreides had his finger on the button.

A lot has been written about the problems of prequels in general. They can never greet the reader with the unexpected; they can only introduce what is to come later. They play on the reader's nostalgia, more than anything else. This disease ravages D:TBJ. At times it seems as if the authors are attempting to cram an origin for every proper noun presented in Dune into a single novel. The first Holtzman effect, the first Fremen riding a worm, the Guild, the Mentats. . . It would seem that all of the cultural touchstones for the thousands of years of history implied in the Dune novels all occurred in a period of about 15 years- as if history had put fourth one burst of creativity during the Roman empire, and then been silent for three thousand years.

Dune: The Butlerian Jihad is, as I mentioned, an ambitious attempt. Its prodigious size in comparison to the later Dune novels (over 600 pages- 200 pages longer than Chapterhouse: Dune, with two more novels of comparable size to come) is testament to the amount of material that Herbert and Anderson are attempting to cover. Unfortunately, volume and breadth can not make up for the lack of flair present in the novel, or the numerous irritating inconsistencies and inadequacies that plague the work. D:TBJ is flavorless and predictable compared to the later Dune novels, and even falls short of the earlier prequels that Herbert and Anderson collaborated on (which suffered from some similar problems). It may be that trying to turn mythology into simple modern narrative is an profitless endeavor- even for fictional mythology.

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